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The same principle should apply to other staff involved with the pastoral care of children in the school. That is particularly the case in view of the impact of work force remodelling, which the Minister mentioned, as an increasing number of support staff are involved in pastoral roles. Our approach to employment is the same as our approach to admissions. We welcome schools that embrace teachers and staff from outside the faith in the same way as we welcome the Church of England’s decision on admission policies, but we believe that it should absolutely be a matter for the schools, not for prescription and legislation.

I recognise the concern in some quarters, particularly as expressed by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), about how the power will be used in respect of staff who are not involved in either a pastoral or academic way with the running of the school. I listened carefully to the Minister and I am sure that he could give a more specific assurance that staff who are not involved in the education of
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pupils—caretakers, administrative staff, caterers and so forth—will not be employed on the basis of faith. Indeed, appointment on that basis should be permitted only where there is a genuine occupational requirement.

Sarah Teather: The exchange between the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and the Minister was revealing, particularly in respect of consultation with the unions. The Minister was hesitant in his answer and later acknowledged that very little consultation had taken place before the amendment was introduced. I heard what he said about working with the unions as the legislation moves forward, but consulting after the horse has bolted is not good enough. The Government should ask people who will be affected by the legislation for their views as a matter of course. Surely that is good practice and we should expect the Government to follow it.

Liberal Democrat Members are very concerned about this group of amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) is hoping to catch your eye shortly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know that he, together with some Labour Members, is actively considering whether to oppose the amendment. If my hon. Friend calls a vote, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will support him, because we are worried about the implications, which have not been properly thought through.

When the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 was debated, we opposed provisions to allow schools to discriminate on grounds of faith. Although the amendment does not increase the quota of the number of staff included, it does widen the scope and we are not happy about that. We currently face an unprecedented shortage of good leadership in schools, so we are particularly concerned about the effect of the amendment on head teachers. The Government will face critical problems in respect of attracting the right people into schools and, given the impending crisis, it seems idiotic further to narrow the pool from which schools can choose good leaders. The criteria are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon pointed out earlier, highly restrictive. It is one thing to expect the head teacher to be in sympathy with the views and the faith of a school, but another to extend that to practice and conduct. That may have huge implications.

For example, let us consider a Catholic head teacher who had been married and subsequently remarried. If the first marriage had been recognised by the Church, the second would not be recognised. Head teachers in that position could not take communion under Catholic rules. Would that put them in breach of the rule on conduct? I suspect that it may, regardless of whether they are practising Catholics. Such aspects of private life, which should not normally be a consideration when choosing good quality teachers, let alone good quality leadership, may come into play. That would be unacceptable, and the Government need to clarify exactly what they mean by conduct and practice of the faith.

We are also worried about extending those discriminatory laws to low paid workers. Many of those people may find that they are unable to get
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another job. If there is only one school locally and they cannot apply for a job there because they do not fulfil the highly restricted faith criteria, that is ridiculous. It prevents qualified people from applying for jobs and, more to the point, discriminates against those who may wish to work at the school.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): My hon. Friend made a point about limiting the range of people who can be chosen as head teachers at a denominational school. However, the Bill would simply allow the post to be restricted; it does not prevent a denominational school from appointing someone from a different faith. The choice is therefore as great as it would otherwise have been.

Sarah Teather: We can assume, given history, that schools would discriminate on the ground of faith. It is already difficult to find good head teachers, especially in faith schools—there is a problem of shortage of leadership there—and the provision would cause further problems. Liberal Democrat Members are minded to vote against the amendment.

Mr. Purchase: The debate will obviously go on and on. From the outset of my brief contribution, I wantto make it clear that I have worked closely withfaith schools in my constituency and in wider Wolverhampton for more than 30 years. My relationships with them have been overwhelmingly good and the teachers, head teachers and workers have had one thought in their minds—giving the children the best possible education.

The essence of the Government’s proposal will not bring people together but divide them even more. In 1998, I was not happy to support the idea that schools could appoint 20 per cent. of their staff on the ground of religion. I support the idea of religious education, which should be wide, liberal and tolerant. I understand that faith schools wish to present a specific point of view—a spin, in modern parlance, on their faith. I do not especially have a problem with that. However, we have now reached the stage where the20 per cent. is no longer the point. We are now asking, “Can we include a head teacher?” and “Can we appoint non-teaching staff to carry out pastoral duties?”

I regard pastoral care as central to children’s education. Many children bring to school a whole package of difficulties, trauma and deprivation. I expect trained teachers—and trained social workers—to provide genuine help, guidance and support for children in that position. Teachers, through their training, understand the importance and centrality of pastoral care to their role and that they carry it out diligently and properly. There are always those who are poor at what they do, but that applies throughout society.

If we agree to this measure today—and I hope that we will not—it will lead to a downgrading of pastoral care at the heart of many of our urban schools, where pupils have serious difficulties. I welcome the idea that funding for schools is now so abundant that there is room in work force changes to have specific posts. May I have one in every school in my constituency? However, the appointment does not need to be made on the basis of the person’s religion. We need someone
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who is properly qualified and understanding—even at graduate level. It is so important that we get this part of our education system absolutely correct.

3.15 pm

As for the trade unions point of view, the consultation will go on. Ultimately,the trade unions will acquiesce in whatever the Government want, because that is the way things have to be. But the fact of the matter is that this is far wider than a narrow trade union interest. This is the biggest issue in the Bill—outside of the provision to have trust schools, and so on and so forth—and therefore, with sadness, I will vote against the Government on this matter. They have had what we call in the industrial west midlands a bit of a bum’s rush. The policy is ill thought out and the Government do not know the consequences. No one has been through all the possibilities.

Most of all, the idea that I have to be a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim or someone of some faith to help and guide a young person is appalling. Those with religion in their hearts should look in their hearts to understand just what they are doing in this case and what they are demanding. I am talking about stripping away from us our essential humanity—our ability to care for one another regardless of our creed, colour, sexual orientation or anything else that may divide us. What we are looking at here is how we can help a fellow human being—often of tender years. The number of times that someone will be called on to say, “I am not sure about my faith. Can you help me?” is infinitesimal compared with the baggage and problems that children bring to our schools every day and that need to be addressed with proper professional help, support and guidance. I urge the Government to rethink this matter, because I do not honestly believe that they have had time to work through all the consequences.

Dr. Pugh: The hon. Gentleman is slightly over-egging the issue in one way. As far as I can see, the proposition is that schools may prefer to appoint somebody of a particular faith. Nobody has claimed, and the Bill does not imply, that a person with no faith cannot offer pastoral help. That is never said at any point, but that seems to be the main thrust of his argument.

Mr. Purchase: Indeed it is, because throughout the history of legislation, there is a choice between something being mandatory or permissive, and what happens? Permissive provisions are ultimately operated as mandatory. We know that religious schools will do that and I understand why they will do it. That is their belief. I do not take it away from them, but please do not take away from me, and from other human beings, that essential part of our character that says that, regardless of differences, we can help, support and guide young people in their everyday lives. That means, at its heart, that the education that they get is more whole and more helpful, and that we end up with better, more rounded, more able young people progressing through school and coming out into the big wide world.

Dr. Evan Harris: It is a privilege and pleasure to follow that contribution by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase). It is also
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important to recognise the valuable contributions and interventions made by the hon. Members for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Kingswood (Roger Berry), who have pressed the Government on the principle and also on the issue of consultation. I want to talk about the impact that the measure will have, what exactly it does in statute and then say a word or two about the consultation.

An e-mail of recent origin was provided to me this week from a young woman who says:

That is the response to my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), who says that this provision does not mandate discrimination. I accept that, but if it permits it, and it has been asked for by the faith schools, some will use it. If even one school discriminates unfairly on the basis of religion in the provision of education in a state school, especially one where salaries are 100 per cent. funded by the state, which is all VA and VC schools, or one where capital costs are only 80, 90 or 100 per cent. funded by the state, which again is all schools, that is not justified. We should oppose it on principle, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East says. That is why my party opposed the basic statute. The only argument that the Government made in support of such new discrimination is that it already happens to teachers so we may as well make it more uniform because we are asking non-teachers to be in the classroom.

If there is a fundamental problem with the basic legislation—the Liberal Democrats believe that there is, which is why we voted against the provisions in 1998 and voted to delete clauses in 2002—it is right and logical that we should, on a point of principle, oppose this measure.

I want to explain to the House what the Bill does because it needs to be made clear. Let us deal first with support staff. Inserting the words “in Wales” in section 60(6) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 means that, for a voluntary aided school in England, it will no longer be the case that

By inserting the words “in Wales” the Government have, in a not very clear way and late in the Bill’s
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passage, removed the protection that existed for all non-teachers. That leaves them open to the full force of section 60.

It is important to recognise what section 60 permits schools to do. It says:

In a voluntary aided school—or in the case of a reserved teacher in a voluntary controlled school—

I would be grateful if the Minister clarified whether that section will apply to new appointments of support staff.

Jim Knight: I just want to clarify. The hon. Gentleman has just read out section 60 of the 1998 Act. Inserting “in Wales” in section 60 makes the 2003 anti-discrimination regulations apply, not section 60.

Dr. Harris: I read out section 60(5), and I have the Act, as amended, here. I hope to have a chance to refer to the relevant part of the amended Act. Will the Minister say whether any of the provisions that I read out from section 60(5)—

Jim Knight: Section 65?

Dr. Harris: No, section 60(5). Will the Minister say whether any of those provisions do not now apply?

Jim Knight: By inserting “in Wales” the 2003 anti-discrimination regulations apply, not section 60 in all its bits, including subsection (5).

Dr. Harris: If the Minister clarifies to which bits he is referring, that would be beneficial.

I wish to discuss the background to the measure. The Bill has been before Parliament for a long time—several months—yet the measure was not in the version of the Bill that received Second Reading in the House of Commons and was scrutinised by the Standing Committee, nor in the Bill that went through Report stage in the House of Commons. The Bill that received Second Reading in the House of Lords made no mention of it. As far as I know, the measure appeared by way of an amendment tabled by a bishop in Committee in the House of Lords. It was inserted in the Bill without any fanfare, lumped in with a number of other amendments, during Report stage in the
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House of Lords. Now, we have our one and only chance to deal with the important question of religion and discrimination.

The work force remodelling agreement group has been in existence for some time. Why had the provision not been discussed by the group or put on its agenda before two Thursdays ago?

Jim Knight: I intervene in an attempt to speed up the debate. As I said, I am sorry that some unions thought that they were not properly consulted. The provisions were discussed by the work force agreement monitoring group both last week and a year ago, when they were first being given serious consideration by the Government. The amendments were originally tabled by the Bishop of Peterborough during Committee stage of the Bill in the House of Lords, as the hon. Gentleman said. Following those discussions, to ease the handling of the Bill, we decided to respond with similar, but more minor, amendments.

It would raise some interesting constitutional questions if we did not allow the Lords to amend Bills. That Bills may be amended in the House of Lords is part of the bicameral system that we enjoy in this country.

Dr. Harris: It should be permitted, but whether it is advisable for the Government to propose such an amendment at so late a stage is questionable.

We need to be clear what the Lords amendment will do in relation to head teachers. It is my understanding that there are 2,639—or thereabouts—voluntary controlled primary and secondary schools, which are able to make up to 20 per cent. of their teaching staff, not including the head teacher, reserved teachers, in the words of the 1998 Act. Those reserved teachers are subject to section 60(5), because section 60(3) states clearly that section 59(2) to (4), which are protections against discrimination,

that is, a school that has a religious character—

All those provisions do apply.

In reply to my intervention and that of the hon. Member for Amber Valley, the Minister made it clear that if two candidates for a head teacher post apply and both are able to teach religious education, the governing body is allowed, if it wishes, to appoint the generally less qualified one if it decides to make a faith test apply. The Minister told me that informally, he repeated it earlier in the debate and I see him confirming it now. That cannot be right.

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